Every time a conversation about how terrible our public transportation is crops up, the debate always centres on how unreliable it is, and how inefficient.
However, so few of us consider that a poor public transportation has a real and tragic human cost to it, in that road deaths have been scarily high for many years now, also as a result of over-congestion on our roads.
Recently, a public forum held by the Research for Social Advancement (Refsa) on public transportation saw DAP Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong bringing up this human cost.
In a report by DAP mouthpiece The Rocket, Liew said: “There is a human cost to the way we manage and govern public transportation; we have 11 million cars and motorcycles in this country, with more than 6,000 deaths a year on the road, and two-thirds of that are motorcyclists.”
He said this at the ‘Moving Cities: The political economy of transportation’ forum on Oct 4. The forum, which is part of Refsa’s Urban Series, also saw Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) Chief Development Officer Dr Prodyut Dutt and Penang Institute KL General Manager Dr Ong Kian Ming as speakers.
Liew, who is also DAP National Political Education Director, said he met a constituent in Penang who was fully paralysed in a motorcycle accident some 16 years ago.
“Sixteen years later, his son was involved in a motorcycle accident also, and was injured very badly,” Liew said.
“(This is why) Anytime the choice is made to take a motorcycle instead of public transportation, there is a human cost. We need to now think beyond the current structure,” he said. His perspective is a valuable one, for if we start to think of public transportation as a real threat to the safety of the rakyat, maybe then it would stop being such a low priority for the government, and they would use the money to make public transport better instead of building parks which nobody wants.
Having just returned from London two weeks ago after a year there, I did not have a car to get around for the first few days. Braving the hot weather, I decided to take the LRT to my office in Pudu.
I carpooled with my father to get to the LRT station, after which I rode the train from Wangsa Maju to Pudu, switching lines at Masjid Jamek. Once I got to Pudu, I had to walk for 15 minutes, going across a major intersection with no pedestrian crossings, and walked at the side of the road since the pedestrian walkways were occupied in long stretches by stalls selling fake watches and leather bags. By the time I arrived at my office, I was simply thankful that I was not hit by a car. I did not take a feeder bus because there was no way of knowing when (or if) it would arrive.
Compare this to my experience going to my university in East London. A short 5-minute walk (with proper pedestrian walkways and crossings) would take me to the Shadwell station, followed by a 25-minute Overground train ride to New Cross Gate, and then another 10-minute walk (also with pedestrian walkways and crossings) to my university. If I did not feel like walking, a bus would easily take me there, every 6-8 minutes on the dot.
Do not misunderstand me for saying that everything is ‘perfect’ in London, but there is a reason why the total death on roads for the entire Great Britain in 2015 was 1,732 deaths. We’re talking the entire Great Britain, that is: Scotland, England, and Wales!
Malaysia, which has half the population of the United Kingdom, has nearly three times as many road deaths.
Obviously, public transportation is not the only factor which leads to road deaths (bad driving, poorly maintained vehicles, a disregard for rules all count) but if less people are driving, it makes sense that less accidents will occur as well.
There is no obvious or easy way to resolve the issues surrounding our public transportation system, but it is time the government steps up to the plate and stop trying to please the developers and contractors, who build roads instead of rails.
May Wan Wong